The Man in the Glass House

Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century

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By Mark Lamster

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A “smoothly written and fair-minded” (Wall Street Journal) biography of architect Philip Johnson — a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

When Philip Johnson died in 2005 at the age of 98, he was still one of the most recognizable and influential figures on the American cultural landscape. The first recipient of the Pritzker Prize and MoMA’s founding architectural curator, Johnson made his mark as one of America’s leading architects with his famous Glass House in New Caanan, CT, and his controversial AT&T Building in NYC, among many others in nearly every city in the country — but his most natural role was as a consummate power broker and shaper of public opinion.

Johnson introduced European modernism — the sleek, glass-and-steel architecture that now dominates our cities — to America, and mentored generations of architects, designers, and artists to follow. He defined the era of “starchitecture” with its flamboyant buildings and celebrity designers who esteemed aesthetics and style above all other concerns. But Johnson was also a man of deep paradoxes: he was a Nazi sympathizer, a designer of synagogues, an enfant terrible into his old age, a populist, and a snob. His clients ranged from the Rockefellers to televangelists to Donald Trump.

Award-winning architectural critic and biographer Mark Lamster’s The Man in the Glass House lifts the veil on Johnson’s controversial and endlessly contradictory life to tell the story of a charming yet deeply flawed man. A rollercoaster tale of the perils of wealth, privilege, and ambition, this book probes the dynamics of American culture that made him so powerful, and tells the story of the built environment in modern America.

Excerpt

I can’t stand truth. It gets so boring, you know, like social responsibility.

—Philip Johnson




(Esto / Ezra Stoller)




The Johnsons of Cleveland: Philip, Louise, Theo, and Jeannette. (Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)




CHAPTER 1

The Master’s Joy

A sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.

The Great Gatsby, 1925

On the morning of July 7, 1906, the New York Times led with coverage of the murder that had dominated the headlines for weeks. The victim was society architect Stanford White, shot dead on the roof of Madison Square Garden by the deranged husband of his showgirl mistress. Journalistic catnip, the story had all the ingredients required of a sensation: fame, wealth, sex, madness, beauty, and betrayal.

For the next ninety-eight years, those themes would define the life of the man who was in many respects White’s heir, and who made his first appearance in this world that very afternoon.

Philip Cortelyou Johnson was not born in New York, the city where he would rise to fame, but in the Midwest, in the comfort of his family’s substantial Cleveland home. If he did not arrive with a silver spoon in his mouth, one was surely close at hand. His father, Homer Hosea Johnson, was an established corporate attorney, a specialist in trust law in an era of great trusts, and at forty-four already a pillar of the community. His mother, the former Louise Pope, was the product of a distinguished line of Quaker industrialists, a dour matron with a sense of propriety as ample as her bosom, which was quite ample indeed. Their home at 2171 Overlook Road was a grand Tudor pile, with twin gabled wings facing over a broad lawn, and an expansive yard with a splashing fountain in the back. It was not quite a mansion like some of the neighboring properties, but it was of more than respectable scale for a growing family of quality and aspiration. Johnson had developed it himself, along with several other properties in Cleveland Heights, an exclusive bedroom community that sat up on a brow overlooking a bustling metropolis on the rise.

These were promising days for Cleveland, an industrial metropolis just coming into its own. Old-timers could remember when the city was little more than a marshy lakeside outpost on the fringes of the national frontier. Within a generation, Cleveland had grown into something of a wonder, a small town transformed by iron foundries and steelworks, oil refineries, automotive plants, and myriad other factories. Proximity to the vast mineral wealth of the West, and a convenient situation at the nexus of rail and water transportation networks, made it appealing to business, “The Greatest Location in the Nation,” according to civic boosters. Lured by jobs created on a grand scale, immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, Italy, Poland, and elsewhere soon made it the fifth most populous city in the country. “The smoke of prosperity,” according to one notable early historian, billowed from a thousand smokestacks. Most prosperous of all was John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world, who founded his Standard Oil empire along the muddy banks of the Cuyahoga.

The Cleveland of Rockefeller and the other barons of that age would not be a begrimed and sordid place. Daniel H. Burnham, the famous Chicago architect who made no small plans, gave the place a City Beautiful makeover. His vision transformed Cleveland into a showplace of grand avenues, monumental public buildings, and stone palaces. Overlook Road, the generously scaled, tree-lined thoroughfare on which the Johnsons made their home, was itself modeled on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s “millionaires’ row,” then lined with the mansions of the city’s ascendant aristocracy.

The Johnsons were comfortable operating in that society, even if their resources were of a more modest order. Homer, anyway, considered himself something of a gentleman. He traced his American roots back to one Jacques Cortelyou, a 1652 arrival in the New World, the source of his son’s unusual middle name. He wore the signet ring of his father’s clan, the Townsends, who maintained a seventeenth-century manor house, Raynham Hall, in the English countryside. Homer eventually gave such a ring to his son, Philip, who thought it “pretty chutzpahish” to affect such airs.

Philip knew the less-than-glorious facts of the family history. Homer’s grandfather, Hosea Johnson, was no aristocrat. The son of a millworker, he had been abandoned by his mother and raised by an aunt in western Massachusetts. In 1815 he came to Ohio, where he purchased land from a family in the rural town of New London. It was in the area known as the Firelands, large tracts of Ohio’s Western Reserve set aside for those burned out of their homes by the British during the Revolutionary War.

Hosea worked that hardscrabble lot, making from it a living for himself and his family. In time, he passed it along to Homer’s enterprising parents, Alfred and Philothea, who ran the farm and operated the local community bank. Homer himself was an only child, born in 1862 in New London, when Abraham Lincoln was president and the states were at war. The Johnsons were staunch abolitionists. They also believed in education, and were determined that Homer would not be a “dirt farmer” like his forefathers. When it was time for him to go off to college, he was instructed to clear a forested plot of the family farm and sell off the timber to meet his tuition. He went away to Amherst for two years, but returned to Ohio to be with his school sweetheart, Nettie Whitcomb. They graduated together from coeducational Oberlin in 1885.

Oberlin was more than just a place for rekindling that relationship. If the school today has a reputation as a bastion of far-left idealism, its progressivism was then congruent with the beliefs of Midwestern Republicanism, and it was understood to be a desirable institution for Ohio’s bourgeois elite. Homer, handsome and popular, traveled easily in that society, a fraternity man—Phi Delta—with an eye to the horizon. “To hell with the past,” he would say. “If you engage in a quarrel between the past and the present, your future is a failure.” (His son, in his postmodern years, would have done well to heed that advice.) He earned his degree in classics, but one of his closest friends was Charles M. Hall, an ambitious young chemistry student who would, with Johnson’s help, achieve extraordinary wealth.

Upon graduation, Johnson left to study law at Harvard, while Nettie moved west to Nebraska with her family. Long-distance relationships were difficult then as now, but theirs continued, in epistolary fashion. “Oh Darling I want you so much,” he wrote to her. “You’re the sweetest old girl I ever saw and I want to look at you right now.” Homer got that wish the following spring, when she moved in with him at his Massachusetts boarding house. The couple was so ardent in their affections that their rather proper landlady refused to allow them back in the fall, as they were setting a poor example for her children. The couple returned to Ohio and married in 1888, but their storybook romance was abruptly and tragically foreshortened. Nettie became pregnant almost at once, but the child died soon after birth, and she did not last much longer herself. Within a year, she was dead from tuberculosis.

That double blow hit hard, but it focused Homer’s attention elsewhere, specifically on his budding career as a Cleveland attorney. Homer Johnson was a man of easy charm, with the open, trustworthy face of a country parson and the gift of gab. Spencer Tracy could have played him in a film. That he radiated a sense of benevolent propriety attracted him to Cleveland’s business leaders, who came to rely on the good counsel of his young firm, established in the year of his return from Harvard with M. B. Johnson (no relation), an Oberlin classmate.

Homer’s friend Charles M. Hall became the firm’s most important client. In a woodshed off his kitchen, Hall had developed a process to extract aluminum from bauxite. With Homer’s encouragement and legal advice, he went on to capitalize on this invention as a primary shareholder of the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, which would change its name to the Aluminum Company of America, and later adopt the acronym that remains in force: Alcoa.

A free-spending young widower with a pleasant smile, a healthy bank account, and a way with words, Homer had no trouble finding companionship. He married again in June of 1896, to Elizabeth Gertrude Beggs, but the union was even shorter-lived than his first. Just two months after their wedding, while still on their honeymoon, Elizabeth died of pneumonia. Homer returned to Cleveland, crushed once more. But when he began to recover, he could at least take heart in the fact that he was not without prospects.

Louise Pope was not like Nettie or Elizabeth; she wasn’t a charming looker, vivacious and gamine, the kind of girl who excited a man’s passions. She would never receive love letters from Homer like the ones he’d sent to Nettie, flush with the desires of youth. Louise was no great romantic. She was stout and serious and proper, with a schoolmarm’s demeanor—perfectly understandable, as she was just that. Seven years Homer’s junior, she was born into a formidable clan, the Popes, a family of energetic Quakers from Maine by way of Maryland. Her grandfather, Alton Pope, built a textile business in a Quaker village outside Baltimore. With the onset of the Civil War, he decamped for the safety of Cleveland. Louise was the middle of five children born to Alton’s eldest son, Edward, and his wife, the former Mary Elizabeth Riley, an Irish-born Canadian immigrant. Louise grew up in a fine house with a maid on fashionable Euclid Avenue, and for college was sent off to Wellesley, where she studied art history and sang in the glee club. (She was an alto.) She graduated in 1891, but continued her study of art history for a year after, returning to Cleveland following a European tour. She was especially inclined to the transformative late Gothic painting of Italy: Duccio, Masaccio, and—her favorite—Simone Martini.

While Homer’s future seemed secure in the first years after his return from law school, the horizon was less assured for Louise. Her father, Edward, was not so facile a capitalist as either his father or his younger brother Alfred, who started out in the family textile concern, then made a fortune in iron and built himself an appropriately imposing Romanesque home on Euclid. Edward, meanwhile, floundered. He became dependent on his younger brother’s largesse, and was forced to give up his own Euclid Avenue address for one considerably less grand. In place of servants there were boarders.

Louise’s prospects were likewise shrinking; a life spent teaching math and hosting teas for the ladies of the Cleveland Wellesley Club (she was president) in her father’s diminished house seemed to be in the offing. Meanwhile, her first cousin Theodate, Alfred’s daughter, was inventing herself as an architect, though she’d never even attended college. Far worse, Louise had fallen for a handsome lawyer with a Harvard degree and a reputation as something of a prize among the eligible gentlemen of Cleveland society. That, of course, was Homer Johnson. Alas, he did not reciprocate her feelings. The two had known each other through social circles for years, and according to family lore he had long been aware of her feelings for him. Even then, he waited five years after the death of Elizabeth Beggs before finally taking Louise Pope to the altar, in October of 1901. It was a small affair, “near relatives and a few very intimate friends,” Louise wrote to a cousin. By that time she was thirty-two and he was thirty-nine, and the match was something closer to a corporate merger than a romance.

The house they established was, predictably, a well-equipped but stern place. Now that she had means, Louise was quick to hire a full staff of her own. Two maids and a cook could soon be found dusting the furniture and preparing hearty meals at her Tudor manor, with a chauffeur minding a carriage house down the block. Keeping up with the Popes was clearly a priority. In 1901, the same year she and Homer were married, Louise’s first cousin Theodate unveiled Hill-Stead, a riff on Mount Vernon that she designed for her parents in the Connecticut woods. (She got some help with the details from blue-chip New York architects McKim, Mead & White.)

Louise no doubt considered the idiosyncratic neocolonial house wildly gauche. To demonstrate her superior and more contemporary taste, she had her own home expanded. Frank Lloyd Wright was considered for the work, but she settled on J. Milton Dyer, a leading Cleveland architect who had studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. The master bedroom, left to interior designer Louis Rorimer, was one of the most stylish spaces in Cleveland. Inspired by archaeologist Howard Carter’s recent discovery of the tomb of Thutmose IV, Rorimer’s design took the Art Nouveau and inflected it with an Egyptian theme of abstracted lotus buds, papyrus scrolls, pylons, and sunbursts—all carried out in the finest materials.

It was a showplace, but not too many people got to see it. Excepting the occasional gathering of Wellesley alumnae, the house was quiet, and the visitors few. Louise had a propensity for migraines and did not particularly care for company. Homer was more sociable, but he was also a strict prohibitionist, and this made an invitation to the Johnson home something less than an appealing proposition among his peers from the Union Club, the most selective of Cleveland institutions. He spent the preponderance of his leisure hours there, hobnobbing with the city’s civic leaders. “Keep peace in the home at all costs,” was one of his precepts. Often enough, his principal means for maintaining it was by not being there. The only regular guests were the family dentist and the local Unitarian minister.

As it was, the Johnson family expanded rapidly. Already in middle age, both Homer and Louise understood that if they were going to have children, as every respectable family must, there was little time to lose, even if neither was especially interested in or even suited to parenthood. A first child, Jeannette, was born in 1902 on the day they celebrated their first anniversary. A second, Alfred, came a year later, in 1903. Records suggest the couple lost another child either to miscarriage or stillbirth before Philip’s arrival in the summer of 1906. A final child, Theodate, was born a year after Philip, in the summer of 1907.

There are no remaining photographs of the four happy siblings together. Alfred, who was bright and towheaded, died just two weeks shy of his fifth birthday, a victim of mastoiditis, an ear infection that is now easily treated with antibiotics. Philip was young enough at the time that, as an adult, he could not remember his death, or his brother at all. But the same was not true for his parents or his older sister. However distant Homer and Louise might have been as parents, the loss of their first-born son was a deep trauma, and it exacerbated Louise’s already forbidding nature. Jeannette, too, was forever changed. She had doted on Alfred, and his loss transformed her into a hardened child, at once protective and domineering with her siblings. Philip and Theo, just a year separated in age, grew close, and came to resent their interfering older sister. “She was matriarchal not maternal,” he would recall. “She’d always tattle on us. She was a little apart.”

Homer Johnson at Townsend Farm. (Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)

For the most part, it was not Louise or Jeannette, her self-appointed lieutenant, doing the mothering, but a series of European governesses, first of Swedish and then German origin. Philip could be forgiven if he came to see himself as a prop in his parents’ kabuki act of haut-bourgeois respectability. An obedient son, he was happy, or at least amenable, when asked to play his part in the family drama. And so he became a walking doll, photographed in a succession of dresses (at the tail end of acceptability for boys), Lord Fauntleroy outfits, knickerbockers, and sailor suits as ordered by his mother. The clothes changed, but he always wore the same affectless expression. He had his father’s round and fleshy face, but he was not inclined to smile. Even at age four, kitted out in an Indian chief’s headdress, he evinced no emotion, but simply stared at the camera with a kind of blank self-possession.

Johnson was happiest while at play with his younger and more adventurous sister, Theo, whose gregariousness balanced his diffidence. Their most pleasant hours were spent together at Townsend Farm, the New London acreage where Homer Johnson was raised, which he had assumed from his family and transformed into a gentleman’s farm of more than three thousand acres. The family made the fifty-mile drive from Cleveland whenever they could, and almost always on weekends.

A joyless Johnson in native costume, at Townsend Farm. (Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)

It was an alluring place. After decades of work in the fields, Homer’s grandfather, Hosea Johnson, had saved enough to build a house up on a rise over his property. It was a home of prideful backwoods aspiration, a squat Greek Revival box of two stories, with four white columns out front supporting a pediment of overly grand proportion. The local carpenter who put it together, justifiably pleased with his efforts, celebrated the new home in verse:

She stands on a hill

And is plain to be seen.

What shall we call her?

We’ll call her the queen.

Louise, inevitably, expanded the place with an extra wing and a porch in the back, though she always appreciated its down-home, American charm. As a matter of principle, Homer ordered that the field that had given its wood for his college education remain forever fallow.

For Philip and his sisters, Townsend Farm was a landscaped idyll of rolling meadows, apple orchards, decorative ponds, and tended woodlands. They kept to themselves, precluded by their parents from mixing with the local farm kids who ran around in overalls and bare feet. Philip had a dog named Brush and a chestnut horse named Snip on which he learned to ride, though he was never much of an equestrian. The area around the manor had the manicured look of a golf course, but Townsend Farm was in fact a working concern run by tenant farmers, with roaming cattle, lamb and pig pens, and sweeping fields of corn and wheat that towered over the heads of Philip and his sisters. At the age of five, Philip watched a gang of hired men in broad-brimmed hats and dungarees raise the wooden beams of a new tool barn by hand. It was his first exposure to the act of building.

“The Queen,” the house at Townsend Farm built by Johnson’s great grandfather. (Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)

Back in Cleveland, things were not nearly so relaxed for young Philip. He lived a sheltered and enclosed life, trapped in his room, a Rorimer showpiece of lacquered chinoiserie furnishings that was hardly suitable for a boy. Philip was just one more beautiful object on display. His native sense of isolation only increased after it came time for him to begin school. Louise started him off in kindergarten at the Laurel School, the lone boy in a class for girls. A year later he was switched to an all-boys school, where he fared poorly both socially and academically. Finally Louise enrolled him, along with Theo, in a public school in Shaker Heights. Each morning, the Johnson siblings were deposited there by limousine, an embarrassing situation that they tried to remedy by having themselves dropped off several blocks away, so they could walk in like everyone else.

Louise’s protectiveness was exacerbated by the recurrent problems with mastoiditis that troubled both Philip and Theo. While on the family’s spring holiday to the Blenheim Hotel in Atlantic City in 1911, Philip came down with his first case of the disease that had killed his brother.

By his own account, Philip was a loner at school. He ate his lunch by himself, and was reluctant to participate in sports and other group activities. The remoteness that had always been a part of his character, however, was metastasizing into a debilitating emotional affliction that would follow him throughout his early life: the son of Cleveland’s famously silver-tongued lawyer stuttered. Homer’s attempted remedy to this condition—a glass of water thrown in his son’s face—proved ineffective. That incident was notable for the physicality of its abuse, which was unusual. More typically, Homer was some combination of distant and disapproving. That left Philip, who looked at him as an idol, pining for his rarely offered approval.

Homer’s tough love did not help cure Philip of his diffidence. Nor did it shake him of the effeminate nature that Homer noted and that Philip did not yet fully understand. That he didn’t know who he was manifested itself in his behavior. At school, he seemed congenitally incapable of completing assignments in a timely manner, despite his evident aptitude. Prolonged absences due to health and travel only increased his sense of isolation. Though the illness would not be diagnosed for years, Johnson was a victim of bipolar disorder.

Johnson’s difficulties were compounded by the fact that he was not spending the entire school year in Cleveland. Beginning in 1915, the family decamped for the winter months to Pinehurst, a seasonal resort community in central North Carolina. Homer chose it for its golf program, then under the direction of Donald Ross, whose legend as a course designer and teaching pro was already substantial. Homer purchased a two-story shingle-style house, Rosemary Cottage, within walking distance of the clubhouse.

The “Cottage” wasn’t really a cottage, but then everything at Pinehurst was something of a conceit, planned by the preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted—the design visionary of Central Park—on the model of the traditional New England village. Always civic-minded, Homer and Louise established themselves as leading members of the community. Homer cofounded the Pinehurst Forum, a weekly discussion group for matters of political consequence. Louise, believing there was no adequate educational facility appropriate for her children, took the measure that might be expected of a woman of means who demanded her way in all things: she founded her own school. To helm it, she imported Mae Chapman, the principal of the Shaker Heights school in which Philip and Theo were enrolled the rest of the year. Chapman was a disciplinarian—a “bitch,” Johnson recalled—but he kept his complaints to himself.

Louise was at turns smothering and detached. In those hours when the children were not at school, they were educated at home. “I was a pure mama’s boy,” Philip would recall. “I had no inkling that there was any knowledge in the world worth knowing except what she could tell me.” Louise was particularly happy to lecture the family on art history, lantern-slide orations that would drone on interminably. Even Homer could not stop her once she built up a head of steam. “Just one more point,” she’d protest, and forty minutes later she’d still be pontificating about some forgotten masterpiece at the Uffizi. For subjects in which she was not expert—botany, biology, Greek—she hired tutors. Homer, when he could, escaped to the links or the clubhouse.

The Johnsons spent the postwar summer of 1919 not at Pinehurst or Townsend Farm but in Europe. Louise, Jeannette, Theo, and Philip sailed in luxury on the Cunard Line’s steamer Aquitania, just decommissioned from wartime service, and made a brief stopover in London before continuing to Paris, where they were reunited with Homer. Since March, he had been there as a member of the American delegation to the postwar peace deliberations. That he was tapped for such duty was a mark of his stature and connections, and also his interest in international affairs.

Homer’s position came through Newton D. Baker, the Secretary of War, a former mayor of Cleveland and member of the Union Club. Knowing Homer was trustworthy, Baker appointed him to the four-man United States Liquidation Commission, which was charged with settling American accounts in postwar Europe. This was no minor appointment. The other commissioners included Henry F. Hollis, a former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, and Charles Dawes, who would be elected vice president in 1924 on a ticket with Calvin Coolidge. Johnson liked to kid about this service—“I became the world’s biggest mule dealer”—but the quips belied the scale of his responsibility. Together, he and his co-commissioners recovered some $893 million in American assets.

Homer’s obligations to the commission were nearing a conclusion when the rest of the family arrived in Paris in July. The children, now in their teens, were pretty much left to their own devices. Philip, given his first taste of independence, learned the map to the Paris Metro by heart, and explored the city in all its breadth. Among his favorite activities was to ride out to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a masterpiece of the Haussmann era, in the far reaches of the 19th arrondissement. He was initially attracted by its curious name, then discovered its romantic belvederes and ponds, waterfalls and toy pavilions. It could not help capturing the imagination of a dreamy boy on his own for the first time; this was what the family’s New London estate could be, in the hands of a great designer. The experience would stay with him over the years, to be drawn on as he imagined the landscape he shaped for himself at his New Canaan estate.

While the Johnsons’ experience of the cleanup of the Great War lacked nothing for comfort, they did venture out to see the carnage wrought in battle, scenes that offered a brutal contrast to the picturesque charms of Haussmann’s grand avenues and romantic parks. Traveling in Homer’s Army-issued Cadillac, they toured the bombed-out cities of Fismes and Reims. In Verdun, they spent a night exposed to the elements at the legendary Coq Hardi hotel, which had lost its windows during bombardment. The next day Homer was given a tour of the trenches and battlefields, then still restricted from the general public, though the bodies had been removed. Philip saw those ghostly killing fields, where more than three hundred thousand men lost their lives, from the safety and comfort of a chauffeured luxury sedan; the cataclysm of war seemed like nothing more than a curious spectacle offered up for his consumption.

The younger Johnson took little from that visit to the theater of battle. The side trip was just “sightseeing” that “meant nothing” to him, he would later recall. It would not be the last time he would take such a blinkered and touristic view of war’s devastation.

Genre:

  • One of the Best Books of the Year - Smithsonian Magazine
  • "Smoothly written and fair-minded... [a] searching and thorough overview of Johnson's engrossing life."—Wall Street Journal
  • "[a] brisk, clear-eyed new biography... Johnson emerges in Lamster's treatment as a person of utter consistency, determined in every instance to strip architecture of social purpose."—the New Yorker
  • "Searing yet judicious... thoroughly documented and convincingly laid out... [an] insightful investigation."—The New York Review of Books
  • "The perfect addition to the aesthete's bookshelf... essential"—The Globe and Mail
  • "[A] thoroughly researched and highly readable volume that vividly captures the essence of a complex and disturbing character."—Architectural Record
  • "The Man in the Glass House is a vivid, thoughtful, illuminating, disturbing, and definitive chronicle of one of twentieth-century architecture's most celebrated and powerful figures."—Kurt Andersen, author and host of Studio 360
  • "Mark Lamster thoughtfully teases out the real history of this modernist icon, from his impressive sexual appetites and more-than-flirtation with fascism in Hitler's Germany to his 1990s collaboration with Donald Trump. It's clear that Johnson was a fascinating and disturbing figure; Lamster's biography, impressively and honestly, displays him with his full complexity."—Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
  • "More than a dozen years after his death Philip Johnson remains a perplexing, polarizing, magnetic and frustrating figure: although he was far from our greatest architect, no one did more to shape our architectural culture. In this compelling biography, Mark Lamster deconstructs Johnson's complex persona, evaluates his work and begins the complex process of establishing his place in history."—Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry
  • "Philip Johnson was as complicated and contradictory as the American century that created him and which he helped define. Modernist, reactionary, anti-Semite, populist, artist, and commercial powerhouse, he lived, in some sense, to contradict himself. In Mark Lamster's nuanced telling, Johnson becomes more than the man in the round glasses or the avatar of modernism; he becomes a symbol of America itself. This is biography as history, and it is a magnificent piece of work."—David L. Ulin, author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles
  • "The Man in the Glass House captures the essence of a prodigious, multivalent, enigmatic American talent with authority and aplomb. It's a biography with attitude, a bullet train through the shifting landscapes of twentieth-century America, and a sheer pleasure to read."—Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do
  • "Philip Johnson led many lives--as curator, aspiring demagogue with a Third Reich fixation, modernist architect, winking post-modernist, and finally kingmaker in the profession--and Mark Lamster has masterfully woven them together in a biography that is as much literary as critical achievement. Required reading for anyone hoping to make sense of the American century, for Johnson was its house architect."—Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer for the city of Los Angeles and former architecture critic, Los Angeles Times
  • "An astute... look at the influential modernist architect. Offering a fresh look at his subject's less-than-savory aspects, Lamster portrays a diffident genius for whom being boring was the greatest crime."—Kirkus (starred review)
  • "Lamster's mesmerizing, authoritative, and often-astonishing study grapples with Johnson's legacy in all its ambiguity... Lamster depicts a man by turns enchanting and irritating, sublime and subpar, pioneering and derivative... Johnson's contradictions, Lamster argues, reveal something of the nation's. Readers may come away with both contempt and admiration, a testament to Lamster's masterful achievement."—Booklist (starred review)

On Sale
Nov 6, 2018
Page Count
528 pages
ISBN-13
9780316126434

Mark Lamster

About the Author

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, a professor in the architecture school at the University of Texas at Arlington, and a 2017 Loeb Fellow of the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Learn more about this author